Most of the discussion about where the coronavirus came from has happened in the West, even though the pathogen was first found in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Officially, the Chinese government has kept an unclear position, which is mostly meant to avoid criticism. Meanwhile, scientists who may know how the pandemic started — probably in late 2019 — don’t seem to be allowed to talk.
This changed a little bit this week when George Gao, the former head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, gave his thoughts on the controversial question on a BBC show.
What did Gao Say?
“Don’t write anything off.”
Even though it doesn’t seem like much, Gao was definitely saying that the coronavirus could have come about because of a mistake in the lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The comments were made in a new podcast from the BBC called “Fever: The Hunt for Covid’s Origin.”
At first, most experts thought that the virus came from a Wuhan wildlife market. But over time, people have come to think that human mistake is more likely.
China has strongly denied that such a “leak” happened, and Gao didn’t show any proof to show that China was wrong. But when he had the chance to deny it himself, he didn’t do that either.
Jamie Metzl, a supporter of the lab leak and a former member of the National Security Council, told Yahoo News that he couldn’t remember another Chinese expert making a similar concession.
Metzl said of Gao, “At least on the surface, he has been pretty honest and straightforward from the start.” “I think he’s trying to keep his scientific credibility while not upsetting the Chinese government too much,” I said.
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers and a strong supporter of lab leaks, thinks that Beijing may have even pushed Gao to do it. Ebright told Yahoo News, “Gao’s statement may have been approved by China’s government, which could mean that China’s government will change its position on the issue.”
An Investigation by China?
In addition, Gao informed the BBC that the Chinese government has looked into the Wuhan laboratory, though he would not elaborate.
Gao stated, “The government organized something.” The professionals in the field double-checked that lab.
He did not specify which organization hired those specialists or what they uncovered beyond the fact that there was no “wrongdoing.”
However, it appears that Chinese officials took the risk of a lab leak more seriously than they had previously suggested based on the fact that an investigation had been conducted.
A Persistent Controversy
The coronavirus is believed to have originated at Fort Detrick, a Maryland-based facility for the development of bioweapons, according to Chinese officials and state media.
That absurd claim is unsupported by any proof, yet it is nonetheless telling. In some ways, Beijing has handled the coronavirus in a similar way to how the Soviet Union handled its response to the partial meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986, using disinformation and propaganda.
Chinese authorities granted permission for a carefully planned visit to Wuhan by WHO investigators in early 2021. In a later assessment, the WHO endorsed the theory that the virus first appeared in the Huanan Seafood Market, where it spread from a “intermediate” animal species to people.
With a goal of obstructing investigations, China has vehemently refuted the market origin theory as well as the potential for a lab leak.
Here comes the Raccoon Dog
A group of researchers made a contentious, hotly contested claim in March. They asserted that the virus started in a cage containing raccoon dogs after analyzing genetic information from swabs acquired at the Huanan Seafood Market and accidentally uploaded to a global server.
Critics were quick to point out that the presence of both raccoon dog DNA and viral material did not prove that the animals had really infected people with the coronavirus. The virus may have been accidentally introduced into the raccoon dog cage by a sneezing person who was already ill with COVID-19.
In addition, it turns out that there was very little viral DNA in the raccoon dog sample to begin with.
Gao was among those who criticized the raccoon dog theory. Like other political figures in China, he insisted that humans, not animals, had introduced the virus to the Huanan market in an apparent attempt to disprove both origin theories without putting out a strong alternative.
Gao mocked the raccoon dog discoveries, calling them “nothing new.”
Preparing for Future Pandemics
Even as concerns about coronaviruses fade for the majority of individuals in the United States and other countries, the attention paid to Gao’s remarks appears to reflect an ongoing interest with the pandemic’s beginnings.
Regardless of where the virus originated, some have suggested that both the wildlife trade and laboratory safety require reform in China and worldwide.
“Science deals in probabilities, not certainties, as Professor Gao stated. According to James Wood, director of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, it may never be possible to tell with certainty how the covid-19 virus infiltrated the human population. “What is important is that lessons are learned, that the trade in live wildlife, which is a well-known method of transmitting zoonotic viruses, is reduced or prohibited, and that laboratory safety is properly regulated.”